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Autumn 1992 and the ‘Battle of Britain’ European Cup clash between Leeds United and Glasgow Rangers heads towards it’s conclusion. Mark Hateley swings a cross in from the left and the eyes of all Rangers fans light up when they see who’s on the end of it. Ally McCoist, as expected, guides his header past John Lukic, sealing the tie for his side. Job done, as per usual.
When it comes to scoring goals, not too many can boast a record that matches that of McCoist, who across a 15-year-spell wrote himself into folklore at one of Britain’s largest clubs in Glasgow Rangers.
McCoist was a natural finisher of opportunities. Though not particularly blessed with the great physique or electric pace of other top strikers, abilities that can set them apart from their compatriots and trouble defenders, McCoist was a frontman with great movement, finding space where others couldn’t. He had that priceless ability to make sure he was in the right place at the right time, seemingly knowing where a loose ball bobbling around the penalty box would end up.
When presented with a chance, he was quick thinking and a clean striker of the ball. To put it in its most primitive footballing term – McCoist was a poacher, and a very good one at that.
After progressing from junior football, McCoist’s first break in the professional game came at Perthshire outfit St. Johnstone in 1979. After taking a little time to adjust to senior football at Scotland’s top level, the striker began to blossom – finding the back of the net with a regularity that persuaded top-flight English club Sunderland to part with a club-record transfer fee of around £400,000 for the Scot’s signature in the summer of 1981.
His time in England wasn’t an overly successful one, however. As the Wearsiders struggled at the bottom end of the division, chances were few and far between and McCoist’s goal return suffered as a consequence – netting just eight times during a two-year spell south of the border.
What followed in 1983 was a career, and to an extent life-defining move back north to the blue side of Glasgow and a club where he’ll forever be revered.
Rangers manager John Greig, a club legend in his own right, took a chance on what he believed was a natural goalscorer. One who, if chances were created, would finish them consistently, and he was proved right as McCoist – following a slightly tough start to life at Ibrox – enjoyed a hugely successful 15 years with the club as they largely dominated the Scottish game – at least certainly the ten year stretch between the late ’80s and ’90s.
During the entirety of his time with Rangers, McCoist would go on to score a club record 355 goals in just under 600 appearances in all competitions – domestically and in Europe. A scoring rate comfortably better than one in two games over such a prolonged spell, and at the top-level is extraordinary, and rightly marks out McCoist as one of the best strikers in Scottish footballing history.
McCoist was part of some fantastic Rangers sides over the years – playing alongside the likes of Paul Gascoigne, Brian Laudrup, Richard Gough, Terry Butcher, Chris Woods, Andy Goram and Ian Durrant as well as Graeme Souness, who was player-manager at the ‘Gers between 1986 and 1991.
McCoist also enjoyed plenty of success under the stewardship of the great Walter Smith throughout the 1990s, as the club won a procession of titles. Indeed, McCoist was an integral part of the Rangers side that won the historic ‘nine in a row’ during that era, a record fierce city rivals Celtic are currently looking to better as they seek their tenth consecutive title in the 2020/21 season.
McCoist left an unmatched legacy at Ibrox, a place he will undoubtedly see as his footballing home. However, he was to make one final move – joining fellow Scottish Premier League side Kilmarnock in 1998. Being in his mid-thirties by then, McCoist was in the veteran stage of his career and as his physical levels wound down, so did his goal return, scoring just nine goals for a mediocre Killie side before his retirement as a professional footballer in 2001.
It should also be noted that McCoist played 61 times for his country, making his debut in 1986 against the Netherlands. Taking part in both the 1990 World Cup and 1996 European Championships where he scored a memorable goal against Switzerland, the striker scored on 19 occasions overall for an inconsistent and largely underwhelming Scotland side in that era.
Photo: The Times
In the latter stages of his career, McCoist was awarded an MBE honour for his services to football and has subsequently been inducted into both the Scottish Football Hall of Fame and the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame as his imprint on the domestic game in Scotland leaves a lasting impression.
Since his retirement, McCoist has become a popular figure within the sporting media. His quick wit and jovial manner making him a popular choice with producers. This includes a long stint on evergreen BBC quiz show ‘A Question of Sport’, punditry on both Sky Sports and BT Sport, talkSport radio shows and even a role in 2000 film ‘A Shot at Glory’, where he starred alongside renowned actor Robert Duvall.
These media duties were punctuated for an eight year spell between 2007 and 2015, where McCoist would return to Rangers as Walter Smith’s assistant. He would eventually take up the managerial reigns himself in 2011, though the financial irregularities which saw the club punished with relegation to Scotland’s fourth tier would make McCoist’s stay a difficult one. After leading the club to two promotions (up to the Scottish Championship), things would turn a little sour for the former striker, and he would eventually leave Rangers and return to his television and radio roles in 2015.
Ally McCoist is nowadays seen as a larger than life, charismatic personality that we all enjoy watching and listening to as we take in our sporting entertainment across many media platforms. However, we should all remember just how good he was as a frontman. A phenomenal taker of chances, a great goalscorer and undoubtedly, an instinctive penalty box poacher.